Francis can’t remember a time when he wasn’t active. The 42-year-old martial art teacher who is a coach for a traveling volleyball team in his spare time has always been an athlete. But then, in his mid-30s, Francis (he asked Reader’s Digest to withhold his name) began experiencing severe pain in his ankle, yet he couldn’t remember rolling it or running into anything. Actually, Francis had gout—something it took nearly six years for him and his doctors to diagnose.
“At first it really seemed like just a sprain. It would take me out of normal life for a few weeks, and I’d shuffle around to keep weight off the foot,” Francis says. “Then it began happening more often—but I still thought it was a repeated sprain.” He tells Reader’s Digest that he cycled through debilitating ankle and knee pain for the next five to six years, chalking up the chronic issue to getting older.
Finally, Francis realized there had to be another explanation. “I went to see an orthopedic surgeon for answers, and he did an MRI and exam. He said it looked to be a sprain because the joint was inflamed and angry. We put a brace on it and waited for it to get better.”
His ankle continued to bother him.
“A few months later, a family friend that worked for the surgeon mentioned that it might be gout, and that’s when I got tested.” There are several things that can trigger ankle pain, and it’s important to know the cause. Here are 11 other reasons why your ankle might be hurting.
Gout is a form of arthritis that’s triggered by high levels of uric acid in the blood. Urate crystals form in the joints and can cause severe pain and inflammation. Francis’s blood tests showed a higher than normal level of uric acid in his blood (his level was 11; normal is 3.4 to 7 for men). His doctor told him his symptoms combined with his uric acid level indicated he had the condition.
“My doctor referred me to a rheumatologist, and she confirmed the diagnosis. It was a relief. I was going crazy trying to figure out how I kept getting sprains.” Although Francis did have a form of arthritis, here are 9 other conditions that mimic arthritis.
Men are more likely to suffer from gout than women at least until age 60, according to arthritis.org (estrogen may offer some protection). Roughly 5.2 percent of men and 2.4 percent of adult Canadian women have gout.
What causes gout?
When the body breaks down a chemical compound called purine, the waste is uric acid. Purines turn up naturally in the body, but they’re also high in foods like red meat, shellfish, and alcohol. Certain medications can also raise the levels of uric acid in the blood, such as some blood pressure medications like diuretics.
Francis says due to the advanced nature of his symptoms, changing his diet was not a treatment option as it sometimes is for others. “My doctor knew that I was beyond changing my diet, so I was offered two different treatments. The first was an oral medication, and the second was a medication given by infusion.” When the oral medication didn’t reduce his uric acid levels as quickly as his doctor hoped, Francis decided to try the infusions.
“The transfusions are much more of a time commitment for me—I get blood work done every two weeks, and then spend three hours in the office receiving the transfusions. I will get the treatment for six months, and I’m almost finished.” Though the treatment has proven to be effective in lowering the uric acid level of his blood, it has also triggered gout flare-ups. Francis says that’s actually a good thing. “As the medication breaks up the crystals in the joints it can cause symptoms, so the flare-ups are actually a sign that it’s doing its job.”
For people who battle gout chronically, relief can come from over-the-counter pain killers such as ibuprofen and prescription medications that block uric acid or improve uric acid removal. Francis’s doctors informed him that he has uncontrolled gout: Even with medication, he may experience symptoms for the rest of his life, though treatment can be different for everyone. “So many things factor into choosing a treatment. Things like lifestyle, diet, and liver function can make a huge difference in the path your doctor chooses to take.” If you’re battling this form of arthritis, check out these 13 natural gout treatments for pain and swelling.
The message for Francis?
“Don’t ignore symptoms if you have gout, because the sooner you treat it, the less long-term impact it will have on your life. There’s a stigma with gout, and people think if you get it you aren’t fit or healthy—but anyone can get this.” But if you’re wanting to improve your overall well-being, make sure you know these health numbers.